Love them or hate them, they are here to stay. That should be the chorus if ever a ballad is written about the vexing trailers and their drivers that have become a burden to Lagosians since December 2017.
When they started littering the highways, clogging streets in the adjoining neighbourhoods, citizens thought the development would soon be rectified in a matter of days, weeks, or even months. It eventually turned out to be an endless siege on the highway. Almost two years now, it has become a monster that defies all remedies, including a presidential order to vacate in 72 hours and the pledge to rid the Apapa roads of trucks within 60 days in office by the then-incoming new Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Lagosians whose neighbourhoods are affected by the trucks gridlock have since resigned to fate; they tried to get used to the ugly reality and adapt to the attendant inconveniences.
But, how has the development affected the lives of the truck drivers?
A recent investigation undertaken by Saturday Sun along the Mile 2 axis of the Oshodi-Apapa expressway revealed the underside of life as a trailer driver in Lagos.
A mosaic experience, of thrills and tribulations, attends the peculiar traffic situation that has turned the drivers to “tenants on the highway” since the past one and half year.
At the Mile 2 area where the survey was conducted, the reporter found an atmosphere saturated with an overwhelming stench of faeces and stale urine. Used tissue papers strewn all over the ground, in the drain, was a clear indication of open defecation. Underneath the trucks were littered with empty sachets of Chelsea dry gin and other cheap brands of alcohol. Also strewn all over the place were wraps of eba, fufu, semo and bits of leftover foods.
The filth notwithstanding, drivers munched away on their corncobs and pieces of coconut. They stood in a state of alert as trucks were passed intermittently and at short notice. They were expected to react promptly or risk losing their chance. Getting their truck to the final destination, that was all that matter to them.
Survival on the highway
Hassan Muritala, 63, was one of the drivers who spoke with Saturday Sun. He has been a professional truck driver since 1977 not out of love for the steering wheel; he had no choice but to stick to the job because driving is the only skill he mastered at a young age.
So far, it has been the sole source of income for him and his full-time housewife. It was the means by which he sponsored his four children through higher institutions.
“My salary is N35, 000 and my feeding allowance is N5, 000,” he confided in Saturday Sun. “Since last week, I have been on this particular journey. I have been taking puff-puff and soft drinks for breakfast and dinner, lunch is usually delayed because of a shortage of cash.”
Obi Okoro, 39, a father of five who started as a “motor boy” in 2004 and became a certified driver in 2007, has a better lot. In his case, being a truck driver has been very lucrative. He used to earn an average of N90, 000 per week––provided he can go on three trips successfully. His good fortune, however, has been nixed by the unnecessary gridlock on the Apapa road. His financial situation subsequently deteriorates. In the present nadir, he finds it difficult to feed his wife and kids, he avowed.
“My remuneration is based on 20 per cent of the worth of the load I convey at a given time. Before now, the work was easy, so the pay was not meagre to us. But now, the work is stressful and the payment remains constant, while the needs of the family keep increasing by the day. School fees are hiked, price of consumer goods are also on the increase,” he lamented.
Personal hygiene is an aspect of their lives that has been grossly affected. Muritala shamefacedly confessed that he had not taken his bath for the past one week––for fear of being left behind when the other vehicles are moved.
Okoro added: “In the aspect of washing our bodies if someone goes to get water from the taps nearby, they bring water for the rest of us to wash our faces and legs. We only bathe fully at night, unless the driver has spare N50 to pay for the use of a bathroom across the road.”
On how do they attend to the call of nature on the open highway where they are at times stuck for as long as one week or more, Dayo, a 21-year-old motor boy, gave an insight: Whenever he feels the urge to defecate and is unable to leave the truck to visit any toilet, he utilizes two small polythene bags, defecates into and disposes it in the gutters.
“But some people do not take any nylon, they simply defecate openly and when we come down from our vehicles, we step on it.”
A cycle of extortion
We are victims of exploitation––this is the main verse of the song of lamentation by the drivers. Abu Alimi, 27, an Ilorin indigene, bemoaning their sorry plight, claimed they survive at the mercy of their employers, the truck owners. What owners of truck pay drivers hardly commensurate with the risk and labour of the job, he stated.
“For example, when our boss is paid N200, 000, me and my partner get N45, 000 as payment. By the time, I give my assistant his share, what then is left for me and my family to feed on?” he said.
Ironically, just as drivers complained of exploitation, their assistants too also accused them of the same crime. According to Kola Amusan, 21-year-old motor boy, drivers not only cheat their motor boys, they sometimes owe them their wages, and in some cases “ask their motor boys for money, with little or no assurance of repayment.”
The biggest of their problem is the extortion by government officials. What is worse, the drivers are sitting duck to security operatives.
The drivers claimed they pay differential rates that range from N10, 000 to N100, 000. For what? “For free passage and to be able to shunt the line and overtake those ahead of them and an additional N5000 on arrival at Coconut,” Alimi supplied.
“Before now, naval officers were in charge, they harassed us for money and sometimes damaged our trucks in the process; when we learnt they were to be replaced by the police, we were expectant; but the police officers turned out worse. They force you to pay and still go behind you to collect a higher amount from other drivers who they pass before you,” he detailed.
Muritala alleged that he had paid N10, 000 from Fagbemi axis to gain mileage; inability to pay more had kept him in a spot for a week.
The flip side of not paying the police: horrible visitations from area boys who reportedly work with the police. Once let loose, they unleash mayhem, destroying the vehicle and causing a setback for the trucks.
A driver, who would not want to be identified by name, told Saturday Sun that area boys and policemen aggressively collect tolls from drivers at every junction.
According to him, they developed a racket whereby instead of the only lane legally approved by the government, police officers purposely divided it into three lanes to maximize their extortions.
“The illegal routes include Agbo-Ile in Coconut, MTN, Berger Cement,and Sunrise,” he said. “Let the government cancel these illegal routes and religiously maintain one lane, you’d see that there would be no traffic jam.”
It is not only truck owners and policemen that ‘squeeze’ the drivers. Robbers are also on the list of the “takers.”
Truck drivers who are denizens of the Mile 2-Apapa 2 highway affirmed they have become the primary target of armed robbers and petty thieves that operate along the axis. The menace has been causing them sleepless nights, as they dare not slumber with both eyes closed for fear of being robbed of what little they have managed to save.
Here’s Muritala narration of his robbery experienced at Tin Can bus stop: “The thieves who took my money and my phone came in a boat at night. I was lucky because some drivers struggled with the thieves were axed on their shoulders and other parts of their bodies. You can imagine that in these hard times, the thieves were expecting us to drop money.”
The rationale for drug abuse and illicit sex
Since the trailer invasion began, the Mile 2 vicinity has assumed a similitude of a red light district. Once dusk descends, the stretch of the road where the trailers are parked attracts a swarm of female hawkers and loose women, some of who trade and traffic in sex.
When queried about it, the drivers attest to the fact that sex trade is thriving in the parks. A few attributed it to the energy derived from the intake of drugs. Others attribute it to lack of discipline among their fellow drivers who engage in such vices.
One of the older drivers, Okonkwo, asserted that since the drivers are mostly young men, it should, therefore, come as no surprise or unusual incidence of sex trysts in the containers or even on the bare floor.
He blamed the traffic gridlock for the going-on. “If it was still a 30-minute journey like before, no one would have the time to consume any substance, but now that the period is elongated, such things can occur.”
Olalekan Abdullahi, a 20-year-old motor boy, claimed that the drivers were not being promiscuous but only exhibiting feelings of love and emotions as human beings that they are.
He also excused their excessive consumption of cigarette and bottles; it would have been moderate if the trucks were moved at the right time, he argued.
“Alcohol hawkers start coming in by 6 pm and alcohol is very cheap here, three mini Chelsea sachets are sold at N100,” he said with glee. And the drugs, he added, have been of help, particularly the one called “maronuku”, a Yoruba phrase meaning “don’t’ worry yourself to death.”
Another motor boy, Dayo, claimed the indulgence in alcohol and sexual promiscuity makes them happy because being stranded in a spot affects their natural mood. Alcohol makes them rest well and avoid deep thinking that can lead to deterioration of health condition, he said.